The relationship between a parent and a child is important because it determines what kind of person that child will grow up to be. However, because of the high cost of living, many parents are culprits of emotional neglect.
Teenagers probably need much more guidance than other children, but 15-year-old Edward Rumanzi has been starved for more than three years.
“I have never had a serious conversation about life with my father,” he says, adding, “He leaves at 5.30am every day and returns late. By that time he is so tired; he only wants to eat and sleep.”
Rumanzi’s stepmother is a career woman. As a result of this subtle emotional neglect, Rumanzi joined a group of like-minded teenagers who roam the streets of Kawempe to pass time.
This boy’s plight is not unique to him, in a city where TV sets babysit children.
Hustling for better life
Mary Jane Biira, a counsellor at Families Fit for Children, says, when a mother is away, the quality of the services the surrogate chooses determines the emotional wellbeing of children.
“Working mothers are tired in the evening yet they have to help their children with their homework. Children want to tell ‘mummy’ about their day. However, the stress mothers carry from work makes it hard to concentrate, so, emotional neglect sets in.”
Many parents do not intend to emotionally neglect their children. They believe their role is to provide materially which explains why they work so hard.
However, children need to be loved expressively and to bond with their parents. Traditionally, mothers took care of both, but nowadays, they work to uphold the family’s standards.
“I talk to my children at the weekend,” Prossy Namaganda, a boutique owner and mother of five, says, adding, “They have a maid and go to good schools. If I neglect my work to bond with them, we will not eat.”
Claire Nakisa is travelling to Qatar this month to work in a factory. She has four children, the youngest of whom is five years old.
“I do not want to leave my children with relatives, but if I remain in Uganda, they will not go to school. The choice is between us living together in poverty, or separating so that life can be better.”
Thus, housemaids and daycare centres have taken over mothering roles.
Internet shaping children’s behaviour
The internet –social media such as Facebook and Whatsapp – is slowly filling the gap left by parents. Where a parent might have shaped their children’s behaviour, the children now copy foreign mannerisms.
“The way a child behaves is an indicator of whether they are emotionally neglected or not,” Biira says, adding, “Indiscipline, which can also be copied, in a child is a cry for attention. Their indiscipline at school is a way to get from a teacher the attention they are not getting at home.”
If you do not take the time to teach your children how to dress or talk decently, how can you expect dignity from them? If you have not shown love to your children, how can you expect them to show love to others?
Biira adds, “A child will grow up with a mentality that if they looked after themselves, why should anyone expect them to look after, or depend on, other people?”
Long term effects of neglect
A child, who has grown up believing love occurs when someone gives you a present, carries that belief into adulthood, not knowing someone can be loved though just listening to them or rejoicing with them.
“If you invest in loving your children, when it comes to your turn in old age, your child will be there for you because they know what love means,” Biira says. “Otherwise, in old age, if you tell them you miss them, they will think you are bored and will buy you a giant TV set for company.”
Neglected children never have loving relationships in adulthood and have difficulty trusting people. Conscious parenting means you are careful of what you do and say as you are bringing up your children.
Rebuilding the relationship
•Evaluate the work ‘baggage’ you bring home every day and throw out what is unnecessary.
•Pay specific attention to the non-verbal communication of your children, especially their body language when you hug them.
•Stop to think: do you know your child’s favourite TV programme, foods, school subjects, clothes, or even friends. If you do not, then start probing gently.
•Instead of punishing a troublesome, aggressive or defiant child, take time to know why they are trying to seek attention. Could it be a sign of neglect?
•Get to their level. Take time to play and converse with your children.